As a general rule (with a few exceptions like A Tale of Two Cities), I dislike reading Charles Dickens. I find him verbose and preachy and most of his characters are mere caricatures. When reading The Old Curiosity Shop, I found that I wanted to punch the grandfather in the face, he was so exasperating.
Bleak House is very much in the above mould of highly unenjoyable Dickens novels. As he was paid by the word for most of his work, Dickens can be very unreadable. Bleak House is only saved by the manifestation of the deadbeat Skimpole, an arch-sponger who preys on the trusting and kind-hearted. We probably all have met at least one Skimpole in our lives, I know that I have.
The underpinning issue driving the plot of Bleak House is Jamdyce and Jamdyce, a long ongoing inheritance case being considered in the Court of Chancery, on which several of the main characters pin their hopes of being able to make their fortunes. Apparently it was based on a real case at the Chancery, where a contested will read in 1797 was not determined until 1859.
The extradition case of Puneet Puneet, currently before an Indian court, reminds me of Bleak House, and the snail-like grindings of the Court of Chancery in its deliberations in Jamdyce and Jamdyce.
For those who do not know, the unusually named Puneet Puneet was an Indian student and learner driver who, in 2008 at age 19, was speeding in South Melbourne whilst under the influence of alcohol, and hit and killed a pedestrian. He subsequently was charged with serious driving offences, and pleaded guilty, and was released on bail pending sentencing.
At which point, his apparent willingness to take responsibility for his actions and his grievous mistake (who cannot remember being 19 years old and an idiot) turned out to be a charade. Either through deceit or complicity, he obtained the passport of one of his friends who superficially resembled him, and fled the jurisdiction, returning to his home in India.
This did cause some outrage in the community, resulting in a reward being posted by the Victorian government. For a few years, Puneet Puneet was able to go about his life in India, putting his mistake in Australia behind him, and even to fall in love (or at least to agree to a marriage arranged by his parents for him).
This resulted, in 2014, in his arrest on his wedding day by Indian police. Apparently one of his friends had decided that the lure of the reward money outweighed the value of Puneet’s friendship (well, this friendship might not have been worth much anyway, given that I recall reading that the friend whose passport had been used by Puneet to flee Australia had gone to gaol for this unfortunate coincidence) and dobbed him in to the authorities.
And this started an extradition case which has stretched for some six years so far. Some of that time, the first couple of years or so, Puneet Puneet spent on remand in an Indian gaol. Since then, he has been out on bail, and he has engaged a lawyer who appears to be highly effective at delaying tactics. Either that, or the rules of court in that jurisdiction are extremely lax.
Some of Team Puneet’s legal defences have been rather hurtful – it has been argued (along with the appearance of some Australian citizen witnesses who later felt remorseful for doing so) that he would not get fair treatment in Australia, and that Australia is a highly racist place. It would be naive to say that there is no racism in Australia, but I think the same situation applies in any other country, particularly one with several sectarian political parties whose adherents are prone to violence against their opponents and who enjoy great political success.
But some of the most recent tactics strike me as exposing an inherent weakness in the court system. A judge who was newly appointed to the case late last year ruled that he wanted the extradition side to make their verbal submissions to the court all over again, as he had not been there to hear them. That itself would add months.
And last month, the lawyer representing Puneet Puneet has made many excuses for not attending the court. One was ill health, although he was reportedly seen in another court shortly before that.
Just as in the Court of Chancery 200 years ago, justice delayed is justice denied. How can the family of the young man who died in that tragic and highly avoidable accident move on with their grieving and achieve closure when the perpetrator of that tragedy is refusing to face justice and hiding behind a highly inefficient system?
There are no winners in this. If Puneet Puneet had faced the consequences of his actions 12 years ago, he would have probably been dealt with leniently by the courts – his youth and guilty plea would have resulted in some mercy. Now, if he does return, it will be after having been a fugitive for over a decade, where his claims of remorse and regret will seem very hollow indeed. And he has already, whilst fighting to avoid justice, spent two years in remand and had this entire matter hanging constantly over his head, consuming the wealth of his family. Is all that punishment enough? That would be for an Australian court to decide.